Kamakura is known of course for its giant Buddha, traditional sightseeing spots and some (rather black, volcanic sand) Shonan beaches. Although it’s perhaps still too chilly to hit the beach, there’s much reason to visit Kamakura in April.
The week-long Kamakura Festival celebrates the city and its long history, specifically the samurai society of the medieval period, around the 12th century. Think the usual parades of mikoshi (portable shrines), musical bands and an assortment of food stalls, but also a special dance performance called shizuka no mai, which is the main attraction.
The story of this dance depicts Princess Shizuka, a well-known tragic heroine, performing a dance before her enemies and expressing her love for the warlord Minamoto-no-Yoshitsun, whom she was forced to abandon. As if this isn’t dramatic enough, the dance angered the antagonists, and the poor princess was imprisoned, and her children killed. You can catch this theatrical performance on the second Sunday of every April – in 2013 it’s the 14th.
The third Sunday of the month (April 21) may not feature the dance, but visitors can watch the art of yabusame, a revival of medieval samurai skills, where archers shoot an arrow while galloping on a horse. Unfortunately there are fewer and fewer archers having such advanced skills today, so this is a rare chance to view this event.
The Kamakura Festival usually draws crowds of 800,000 in its week-long duration, filled with parades and even open-air tea ceremonies.
Kamakura Festival (click for official Japan National Tourism site)
When: April 14-21
Where: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura. About a 10/15 minute walk from Kamakura station.
Main image: Ryosuke Yagi on Flickr